Life progressed happily over the next few years. Charles thoroughly enjoyed his work and was promoted to works manager in 1911. Little Charlie was a constant source of wonder and joy to his parents, and Millie began to think of trying for a second child. They were untouched by the rumblings of strife in Europe or by the Irish troubles nearer home.
The only sadness to cloud their blue skies came with the death of Millie’s father. The quiet bookkeeper, Granddad Ockie to the two-year-old, had doted upon his grandson and had visited them regularly. He contracted tuberculosis early in 1913 and died a year later, in February 1914.
Later that year, however, came an event, the consequences of which were to rock the very foundations of their little heaven. On 28th June, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was assassinated—with a single bullet from a Browning pistol. The complicated series of treaties and alliances established between various European nations caused a chain reaction from this tragic deed that led to Great Britain’s declaration of war against Germany on 4th August.
Within a month, Charles had been encouraged by the owner of the print works, the retired Major General Sir Arthur Collick, to accept a commission as a lieutenant in the newly created photographic section of the Royal Flying Corps. He was to become a technical instructor; his expertise in the production and use of printing and photographic equipment was considered to be invaluable.
The initial wave of optimism flowing throughout the country in the late summer of 1914 suggested the war would be a brief affair. It would all be over by Christmas. Nevertheless, Millie feared the prospect. She knew her husband would accept wholeheartedly the call to serve his country, and she put on a brave face in support of his decision.
It was of comfort that her widowed mother now began to spend much of her time with her and little Charlie, the latter already a bouncy, blond, three-year-old bundle of energy. They found things to do and to laugh at that distracted her from thoughts of the ghastly war; and of her husband fiddling with photographic equipment in flying machines. Thank the Lord he was only at Farnborough and not over there. But, anyway, it would all be over soon, wouldn’t it?
* * *
Charles managed to obtain leave and to get home in time for Charlie’s fourth birthday. Millie marvelled at how impressive her husband looked in his new lieutenant’s uniform, over six feet tall, broad shouldered, and with that smile, capable of melting icebergs. She was sure he was a wonderful instructor. He held her tightly and whispered words of love. They went to Regent’s Park Zoo and showed Charlie the lions and the elephants and the chattering monkeys, much to the delight of the four-year-old. They ate ice creams and had lunch in a restaurant. They all walked to the Church of our Lady of Good Counsel on Sunday morning and received a blessing from Father Peter. All in all, they had a wonderful family weekend. But it had to end, of course, and it ended with Charles explaining to Millie that he was to undertake a pilot’s training course on his return to camp.
A couple of months later, at the end of January, Charles, now Captain Stoker, managed another short weekend at home. This time he informed his wife that his squadron was going over to France within a few days. Millie remained typically silent. Charles would do what he felt to be his duty, no matter what. All he needed from her was understanding, love and support, and these she gave wholeheartedly. Only after he had left, when little Charlie was asleep and she was in the privacy of her bedroom, did she allow her frustration and resentment to show, and her tears to flow.
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